Top Chef Masters Recap: Championship Round 1
By L. Stolpman in Food on Jul 30, 2009 4:00PM
We're finally nearing the finish line for Top Chef Masters. Competing this week: Chef Hubert Keller, Chef Michael Chiarello, Chef Anita Lo, Chef Art Smith, Chef Suzanne Tracht, and Chef Rick Bayless. For the next three episodes, one chef will be eliminated until we have 3 chefs competing in the finale. The 6 previous winners enter the kitchen and get ready to rumble.
Quickfire. The chefs draw knives to see what team they are on - Salt or Pepper. The challenge? The mise en place relay race. We cheer! We love this one. Ever since we saw Hung butcher a chicken in 1.4 seconds. This makes us wonder if there will be a palate challenge. These chefs will be forgiven if they can't chop an onion quickly but if they botch a tasting/palate test...maybe not so much. Tom Colicchio enters the kitchen to judge the competition. Chef Smith refers to him as "Big Daddy" and bears everywhere nod and whisper, "I knew it," to themselves.
The tasks: Open 15 oysters, dice five onions, butcher 4 chickens, and separate five eggs and beat them so the bowl can be held upside down for five seconds. One chef on each team will be doing two tasks. Winning team members gets an advantage going into the elimination challenge. Team Salt consists of Rick, Anita and Hubert. Team Pepper is Art, Michael, and Suzanne. Time starts and Suzanne and Hubert bust into the oysters, finishing about the same time. Art starts on onions, along with Hubert with Art finishing first, a full onion ahead of Hubert. Michael jumps in for Team Pepper and starts on the chickens while Hubert finishes and Anita tag teams in to butcher fowl. Both finish about the same time. Rick and Art start the eggs. Rick wins well before Art and Team Salt is declared the winner, earning each team member 5 stars while Team Pepper's members get 4 stars each.
Then, as a prelude to the elimination round, each chef is asked to cook his or her signature dish for the others prior to the elimination round. We watch them cook and our mouth waters. Then they sit down and eat it all. Hubert makes lobster and truffle cappuccino with a corn madeleine. Art makes seared grouper with hearts of palm, trumpet mushrooms and Meyer lemon zest. He makes sure we know that President Obama has eaten this dish and loved it. Anita offers seared scallops with potato puree and bacon, sea urchin and mustard greens. Michael makes fennel balsamic quail with mosto cotto mostarda, sauteed greens and roasted apples. Suzanne serves chopped sirloin with green peppercorn sauce and fried egg. Rick offers rack of lamb and black pasilla chile with mission figs. That kind of dinner is a once in a lifetime.
Elimination Round. Each chef must take a competitor's signature dish and put his/her own spin on the dish. Wow. This should be GOOD. Hubert and Anita will be preparing each other's dish. Suzanne and Art make another pair and finally, we have Michael and Rick. 45 minutes of shopping and 2 hours in the kitchen before tasting.
Tasters are former contestants in the Masters series, along with the usual bevy of critics. Ohhhhh, Ludouche is back! Glee, glee, glee! First up to serve is Art Smith. Former dish: chopped sirloin with green peppercorn sauce and fried egg. New interpretation: ground lamb scotch egg, sweet potato fries and tomato tart. It is well received and seems to capture Art well. Rick is next. Former dish: fennel balsamic quail with mosto cotto mostarda, sauteed greens and roasted apples. New interpretation: quail with parsnip and prosciutto stuffing over wild greens. The critics note that he did not go Mexican and Ludouche says it is balanced and a great dish (!!). Suzanne is up. Former dish: seared grouper with hearts of palm, trumpet mushrooms and meyer lemon zest. New interpretation: roast grouper with gnocchi, peas, bacon and parsnips. The critics notice that the dish appears to have gone too long before being served. Hubert is up. Former dish: seared scallops with potato puree and bacon, sea urchin and mustard greens. New interpretation: seared scallop with cream of sea urchin over fingerling mashed potatoes. Scallops are perfectly cooked but the critics aren't tasting the sea urchin. Michael's up. Former dish: rack of lamb and black pasilla chile with mission figs. New interpretation: rack of lamb stuffed with fig mostarda, chickpeas and fried rosemary. Overall, critics feel the dish is not complete. Anita is next. Former dish: lobster and truffle cappuccino with a corn madeleine. New interpretation: corn chawanmushi, champagne gelee, lobster biscuit sandwich. Critics are impressed with the thought that went into the dish.
Critics' Table. The critics really like Anita's dish and how she reinvented it. Jay says, "Genius." Gael says she is full of surprises. Art's lamb is slightly too rare and the egg, they say, was slightly overcooked. Suzanne's grouper is declared overdone. Rick's dish impressed. Michael's lamb was too rare. The critics discuss and they are very impressed with Anita. Gael did not like Art's dish at all and Suzanne's cold grouper leaves her dead in the water. Michael's chickpeas won praise. Rick's dish gets huge marks.
Final scores: Suzanne: 14.5 stars. Michael: 18.5 stars. Art: 15 stars. Hubert: 21.5 stars. Anita: 24 stars. Rick: 23 stars. Anita wins another $10,000 for her charity and Suzanne is going home tonight. More champions round next week!